12-month program helps R.I. pediatricians navigate rising rates of child obesity

THIS FALL, CTC-RI, completed its first 12-month pediatric weight management program funded by Point32Health to help pediatricians across Rhode Island prepare to intervene with child weigh management concerns.

PROVIDENCE – As Rhode Island continues to grapple with a primary care workforce shortage, the state’s Care Transformation Collaborative of RI is working to advance programs that respond to these needs.

One topic pediatricians across Rhode Island have asked for help with is navigating the topic of weight management as children throughout the state are overweight and facing obesity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a RI KIDS COUNT report.

This fall, CTC-RI, completed its first 12-month pediatric weight management program funded by Point32Health, which is the parent company of Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The program, The “Pediatric Weight Management ECHO,” helped practices get better prepared to intervene and help children with weight management concerns. Project ECHO, Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes, is a collaborative model of medical education and case reviews that helps clinicians provide care to their patients, according to a news release.

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“We saw an opportunity to figure out how to improve care for children who are overweight or obese by taking a behavioral health approach to behavior change. We found tremendous success by bringing different pediatric practices together to problem solve similar challenges, brainstorm ideas, share case studies, and engage in a focused learning curriculum over the last 12 months,” said Debra Hurwitz, CTC-RI executive director. “Thanks to funding provided by Point32Health, we studied what happened when we connected pediatric care teams with behavioral health providers right on-site in their practices and complimented that with focused learning around this sensitive topic. The results were impressive – not only did pediatricians and care teams feel more confident navigating this topic with patients, but results show that families were satisfied, felt respected, and were more comfortable openly discussing the weight of their children.”

The program assisted seven primary care practices across the state with new skills, knowledge and comfort to address the topic of weight management with patients and their families. The participating practices included: Anchor Pediatrics in Lincoln; Atlantic Pediatrics in Cranston; Santiago Medical Group in North Providence and Pawtucket; St. Joseph Health Center in Providence; Tri-County Community Action Agency in Johnston, North Providence, and Wakefield; Waterman Pediatrics – Coastal Medicine in East Providence; and Westerly Medical Center in Westerly.

“We joined this awesome collaborative to enhance the way we approach weight management in our practice. By learning from local experts and engaging in group discussion, we gain insight on innovative ways to work together with our patients when tackling this difficult topic,” said Dr. Jon Dooley, a fellow of American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at St. Joseph Health Center – Pediatric Clinic, who participated in the 12-month program. “Talking about weight is never fun… it’s easy for our patients to feel judged or uncomfortable. Making a connection and letting your patients know they are not alone (instead of just lecturing them) helps to empower more change and increases the chances of continued engagement.”

Practices participating in the program joined monthly learning sessions on topics ranging from cultural considerations to effects on mental health and empowering parents. Among other things, the practices also completed pre- and post-program assessments that measured the effects and received practice facilitation support, according to a news release.

“We know how important it is for patients to not only trust their primary care doctors and care teams, but feel comfortable discussing sensitive health topics, and leave feeling empowered and supported by their conversations and care. CTC-RI’s Pediatric Weight Management ECHO is a great example of ways to invest in strategies and resources that respond to the real needs of our primary care workforce – helping them better help their patients,” said Dr. Glenn Pomerantz, Chief Medical Officer at Point32Health. “This year-long learning program embraced collaboration, provided motivational interviewing techniques that led to more engaging conversations with families, and ultimately, better health outcomes for children. Point32Health is proud to invest in programs that improve the health and wellness of Rhode Islanders.”

As CTC-RI’s pediatric weight management ECHO concluded, the organization launched a new ECHO program in September focused on supporting children and adolescents with restrictive eating disorders, according to a news release.

“Our behavioral health focus provided practice participants with new ways of understanding and approaching behavior change with their patients,” said Liz Cantor, practice and ECHO facilitator. “We were thrilled to be able to bring many of RI’s behavioral health research and clinical experts on childhood obesity and overweight into this Learning Collaborative to share information and teach best practice skills for increasing patient engagement and motivation.”

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Castellani@PBN.com.

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